It’s Not All about Location, Location, Location

How can you find the right location for your small business? No matter what your product or service the key is through good old fashioned legwork. Beyond identifying whether a location has the amount and type of traffic your business needs, you’ll also need to consider things like sign ordinances, building ordinances, and whether there’ll be enough parking available.

Last time we met I brought you the tale of how I scouted for and eventually found what I considered to be the best retail location for my new retail gunshop in my hometown of Madison.

No matter what your product or service the key to finding a great location is through good old fashioned legwork. You can use a commercial realtor to help identify potential locations, but you should take it upon yourself to visit each location at different times of the day, on different days of the week, to make sure it’s truly the best location for your particular business. A location may look great in the morning, but not-so-great in the afternoon; or may have tons of traffic on Monday, but an empty parking lot on Friday. Never judge a location on a single visit. Go there at different times of the day and night, on different days of the week, and observe the flow of traffic. Trust me: you won’t know for sure how good a location is without going through this process.

One point that I have yet to cover is that when it comes to finding space for your business, be it retail, office, or warehouse, you should not only consider the location, but a number of other areas, as well. Unfortunately, these are areas that many entrepreneurs don’t even consider until after they’ve signed on the dotted line.

Depending on your type of business you should also consider some or all of the following. Is there a sign ordinance that dictates the kind of signage you can or cannot construct? Sign ordinances change over time and you may find that existing businesses fall under one set of rules while new businesses are subject to completely different guidelines. If you rent a space thinking that your sign can be as big as and as close to the street as everyone else’s you may find that’s not the case.

Next, are there municipal or building ordinances that dictate the type of business that can be conducted in that location? You may think that the city or landlord has no problem with your kind of product or service, but unless you ask you may find yourself barred from doing business after you’ve rented the space. I met one landlord who wanted no part of a gunshop in his building as he mistakenly thought his liability for having me as a tenant would be high. If I had really wanted the space I could have probably convinced him that wasn’t the case, but why beg a guy to let you write him a big rent check every month? Life’s too short and vacant spaces with intelligent landlords are too many.

Next, is there sufficient parking for your customers and employees? One of the drawbacks of the free standing buildings I looked at was that the parking lots were small. With employees and the required handicapped spaces, there would barely be enough room for customers to park.

Speaking of employees, it’s important to consider ahead of time how many employees will be on hand at any given time and what their space requirements will be. Will you need offices or cubicles? Will you need male and female restrooms? Will you need a break room or locker room? How many employees will need to be behind the counter at the same time? Employees take up lots of space so plan accordingly.

I mentioned handicapped parking, but did you also know there may be rules regarding the number and size of restrooms you must have on the premises to accommodate those in wheelchairs and with other disabilities? This is one of the things you can learn from the city building inspector, who can also fill you in on any special construction rules that pertain to the space you’re considering. They can also inform you on the licenses you’ll need before starting construction.

Here’s an egg on my face moment: I needed a wall constructed that divided the space into two sections. The wall would have a huge pane of mirrored glass so we could see the sales floor from the office. My contractor spoke to the license department and through a miscommunication thought we didn’t need a permit and that we could build any kind of wall we wanted.

Here comes the egg. When I tried to get a certificate of occupancy (after the wall had been finished) I discovered that not only did I need a permit to construct the wall, the wall did not meet the building code and had to be torn down. That was a $2,000 lesson I could have lived without, but live and learn and pass it on, that’s my motto.

Next, what are your future growth projections? Every business grows (or dies) and one of the worst things that can happen to a thriving business is that it outgrows its space too quickly. Does the space you’re considering give you ample room for growth or might it be too small in a short time?

Here’s another biggie: is the area growing in population and is the economy on the rise or are residents moving away and taking their buying dollars with them? I mentioned last week that one of the determining factors for me to locate on the north side of Madison was that the south side isn’t growing residentially and many businesses there are struggling to stay afloat. It’s a no brainer: always go where the money is.

Finally, it’s important that you not get caught up in the moment when looking at space. Take your time to find the space best suited for your business for the long haul, not just for today.

Next week we’ll look at signing what I call “the evil deed.” Get your first born ready and be back here next week.

Read the next article in this series, Time To Sign A Lease; Get Your First Born Ready


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